The Photograph Explained: Sandbird by Chris Bell

I have been working with a 4 x 5 camera for the last 35 years. Almost all of my work is about the beauty of the natural world and its capacity to enrich us, to enchant us. Though I have worked quite a deal with black and white film, most of my current black and white work is derived from colour transparencies, including Sandbird: drying sand patterns, (Fujichrome Provia 4 x 5). This particular image was captured with a Linhof Technikardan and 65 mm Nikkor lens. Even though the 65 mm lens has a huge coverage it wasn’t wide enough to capture the entire subject in Tasmania’s Southwest National Park and hence two 4 x 5s were stitched together (the final print being 38cm x 67cm). Most, though not all, of my work is editioned (mostly 10).

I no longer work in a darkroom for there is no question that the degree of control in Photoshop over every aspect of ‘creating’ an image makes working with black and whites in a darkroom very tedious and nowhere near as exacting (prompting more than one magazine editor in the US to ask: “Would Ansel Adams have liked Photoshop?”) At the end of the day I am not interested in how people make an image, whether it’s made with fibre-based papers or selenium toned, but rather it’s profundity. Does the image ‘sing’? Will it still be viewed as a piece of art in 50 years time?

I like the idea of permanence when it comes to photos and indeed if conventional black and whites are processed correctly their longevity puts them in the category of oil paintings – over 500 years. But current pigment ink-jet prints are now rated at 100 years+ which in the scheme of things is ‘relatively permanent’ – though I’m not even convinced the human race is going to be here in one hundred years time to appreciate them in any case! So, not only is the longevity of ink-jet prints more than acceptable, but the surface and feel is very similar to fibre-based prints also, and I for one am delighted with the results that I get from my ink-jet printer (an Epson 7800). Never before have photographers had the means to readily output images that are archival and beautiful, capturing the subtlety so often lost in other printed mediums.

Chris Bell photographer

Chris Bell

The Tarkine. Chris’s latest book AUD 85.00